Oh. U.S. In a phone call underlining troubled relations and the delicate balance between former Cold War enemies, President Joe Biden and Russian leader Vladimir Putin held their first conversation as competitors on Tuesday.
According to the White House, Biden raised concerns about the arrest of Alexei Navalny, an opposition figure, Russia’s alleged involvement in a massive cyber-espionage campaign, and Russian bounty reports on US troops in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the Kremlin concentrated on Putin’s response to Biden’s proposal to extend the last remaining U.S.-Russian arms control treaty.
While different elements were emphasised by the readouts from the two capitals, both suggested that U.S.-Russia relations would be guided by a desire to do no harm but also no urgency to repair existing damage, at least at the beginning of the Biden administration.
The two presidents agreed to work urgently with their teams to complete a five-year extension of the New START Treaty on Nuclear Weapons that expires next month. The administration of former President Donald Trump withdrew from two arms control treaties with Russia and was ready to allow New START to lapse.
Unlike his immediate predecessors, including Trump, who fell in love with Putin and often undermined the tough stance of his own administration on Russia, Biden did not hope for a “reset” in relationships. Instead, without necessarily solving them or improving ties, he has indicated he wants to manage differences.
And with a heavy domestic agenda and looming decisions needed on Iran and China, what Biden is looking for is not likely to be a direct confrontation with Russia.
Biden also raised the cyber hack SolarWinds, which was attributed to Russia, reports of Russian bounties on American soldiers in Afghanistan, U.S. election interference in 2020, Navalny’s poisoning, and the weekend crackdown on supporters of Navalny.
“President Biden made it clear that in reaction to decisions by Russia that harm us or our allies, the United States will act firmly in defense system of its national interests,” the White House said. In the phone call, first reported by The Associated Press, Biden informed Putin that the U.S.To ensure that Moscow does not act with impunity, officials said, it would defend itself and take action, which might include further sanctions.
The speech, often a diplomatic way of referring to tense discussions, was described as “frank and businesslike.” It also said Putin congratulated Biden on becoming president and “noted that it would serve the interests of both countries to normalise ties between Russia and the United States.”
The call came as Putin reflected on the aftermath of the pro-Navalny protests that took place over the weekend in more than 100 Russian cities. The Biden team has already responded strongly to the crackdown on the protests, arresting over 3,700 people across Russia, including over 1,400 in Moscow. For the coming weekend, more protests are planned.
Navalny, an anti-corruption campaigner and Putin’s best-known critic, was arrested on Jan. 17 when he returned from Germany to Russia, where he spent nearly five months recovering from the Kremlin’s nerve-agent poisoning. The use of chemical weapons has previously been condemned by Biden.